Fridays are different. Every other day of the week, the Colonel and his ailing wife fight a constant battle against poverty and monotony, scraping together the dregs of their savings for the food and medicine that keeps them alive. But on Fridays the postman comes – and that sets a fleeting wave of hope rushing through the Colonel’s ageing heart.
For fifteen years he’s watched the mail launch come into harbour, hoping he’ll be handed an envelope containing the army pension promised to him all those years ago. Whilst he waits for the cheque, his hopes are pinned on his prize bird and the upcoming cockfighting season. But until then the bird – like the Colonel and his wife – must somehow be fed. . .
No one writes like Márquez either, so after years away from his works – apologies for such an oversight in my reading schedule – even one of his minor tales feels like a privilege to read. This succinct story is packed full of melancholy, humanity and wonderful writing, each line seem precisely weighted for maximum enjoyment.
Waiting plays a big part throughout these pages, life is staid and conventional, poised but never moving on whilst all around ages towards the inevitable. Will that pension ever arrive to allow living to progress again? The limbo is palpable.
The unfair nature of so many circumstances in the novella are nothing new, especially those who despite fighting in wars are the first to be forgotten when it comes to what they are owed – even though they are afforded respect. Márquez, however, adds to this with his sense of the bigger picture, from the inane bureaucracy of governments, the sense or lack of loyalty from neighbours, to the sheer brutal chances of life choices.
The need of the Colonel and his wife to put on a facade and show themselves as keeping up appearances with both the neighbours and the town in general, is a facade largely ignored by the locals, their beliefs held in check through respect for his duty. It’s all rather a sad state of affairs.
There is hope though, the gamble of waiting for the pension, and the rearing of the rooster, and the attitudes of the fellow townsfolk. It all seems very tenuous, as if were one domino to fall everything would change, or perhaps nothing would change, both of which are terrifying thoughts.
Although NOWttC is a short story, Márquez is always supremely capable of transforming what in reality is mundane into something fascinating with dramatic flair. For regular readers there are a wealth of subtle references to some of his other works making this rewarding for hardcore fans but also a solid starting point for new readers.